As the summer months come to a close, families are preparing to go back to school. With childhood obesity on the rise, it’s important to think about back-to-school nutrition.

A healthy diet is crucial for a child’s development, school performance and overall health. Here are some back-to-school nutrition basics to help your children do their best during this coming school year.

Make Breakfast a Priority

Research shows that eating a healthy breakfast is the best way to start the day, for both children and adults. When children wake up for school, they may have gone 8-12 hours without eating anything.

It is important to break the overnight fast with a balanced breakfast. A nutritious breakfast not only provides children with energy they need for the day ahead, but also supplies many important nutrients that are necessary for growth and development.

Additionally, studies have linked eating breakfast with improved memory, higher test scores, better attendance and more positive behaviors. On the other hand, children who skip breakfast may feel tired and have trouble concentrating throughout the school day.

Getting children ready for school in the morning can be a stressful time with everyone rushing to get out the door. However, a little planning can go a long way to help make time for breakfast, even on a busy morning. Try stocking easy-to-eat breakfast foods like yogurt cups, fresh fruit or whole-grain granola bars for mornings on the go. A balanced breakfast doesn’t have to be a complicated meal. A bowl of whole-grain cereal (aim for less than 10 grams of sugar per serving), low-fat milk and a piece of fruit can be a simple, nutritious, and filling breakfast.

Lunch Time

While schools have attempted to revamp their menus in recent years to reflect nutritional standards, packing your child’s lunch can be both healthy and economical. Also, buying lunch may mean less time for children to eat their lunch and more choices that may not be the healthiest options available.

Packing your child’s lunch the night before allows you to have more control over what he or she is eating and can also save time in the morning. As a general rule, try to incorporate at least one serving of fruit, vegetables, protein and whole grains.

For example, a whole-grain tortilla wrap with low-fat cheese, roasted turkey and baby spinach with a side of fresh fruit and water.

Packing a lunch for those picky eaters who don’t care for the food the school offers is a great way to ensure they get enough to eat of the kinds of healthy foods they like and will consume.

Snacking Smart

Afterschool snacks are important to think about as well. Most children come home hungry since they have not eaten since lunch time, which in many cases can be before noon. Keep in mind that afterschool snacks should be light enough that your child is still hungry for dinner, but not starving when it comes time to sit down to eat.

Apple slices with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or trail mix with nuts and dried fruit are healthy options that should be enough to satisfy your child in the time between getting home from school and dinner.

If your child rides the bus or has a long drive home from school, try sending the snack with them or have it in the car for the ride home. Keeping healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables available, instead of junk foods, helps children avoid eating too many empty calories and overeating at meals.

Check out the recipe below for a healthy afterschool snack option for your child.

No-Bake Fruit and Nut Bars

1 cup pitted dates (about 12)

1/4 cup peanut or almond butter

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup unsalted almonds, chopped

1/2 cup rolled oats

3/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, golden raisins or sliced apricots)

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Line an 8-inch-square pan with foil, leaving an overhang on all sides.

In a food processor, chop the dates (they will form a ball); transfer to a bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the peanut butter, honey and vanilla, stirring occasionally, until combined, about 1 minute. Add to the bowl, and mix to combine.

Fold in the almonds, oats, dried fruit and pumpkin seeds. Press the mixture into the prepared pan and freeze until sliceable, about 30 minutes. Cut into 12 bars. Store in fridge.

Nutritional Information (per bar): 214 calories, 10.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 38 mg sodium, 5 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 4g fiber.

Katie Greenawalt is a Penn State Extension educator in Lebanon County.